Success Story Interview - Jessica Conoley

An Interview with Jessica Conoley (jaconoley on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Lucy Cleland of Calligraph.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Jessica Conoley:
The Color Eater is a YA fantasy novel about a girl who is being hunted for a superpower that she doesn't understand how to control. 80s action movies and growing up on the X-Men were a definite inspiration. Also, I heard birds have hollow bones and that got me thinking about a whole bunch of new kinds of super-powers.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Jessica Conoley:
Seriously, for 7 1/2 years. I've kept a journal since 4th grade, but never wrote stories for other people to read until I had a "life-crisis" when I turned 30.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Jessica Conoley:
4 years? But the idea came to me long before I got serious about writing it.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Jessica Conoley:
Yes, a million times. And there are times I did give up. I have a critique group that meets once a week. They kept me from giving up on writing all together.
QT: Is this your first book?
Jessica Conoley:
My first full length one, yes. I put out a very, very short essay collection on Amazon because I wanted to learn how the Amazon author pages & Goodreads worked before The Color Eater hit the shelves.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Jessica Conoley:
Not really? My B.A. is in English, but I managed to get through the entire program without ever taking a "writing" class. I just took literature classes where we read books and then had to write a short paper on them. I have taken some workshop classes at conferences, etc.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Jessica Conoley:
I wish. I always have great intentions and then end up writing erratically and inconsistently.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Jessica Conoley:
2 series re-writes. Getting ready to go through another one with my agent.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Jessica Conoley:
Yes. Around ten of them.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Jessica Conoley:
No outlines. I get flashes of images in my head (like a polaroid) and it's the beginning of a scene. I knew the beginning scene and had an idea of the end, and just wrote to find out what happened in this book.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Jessica Conoley:
Off and on since 2014.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Jessica Conoley:
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Jessica Conoley:
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Jessica Conoley:
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Jessica Conoley:
Surround yourself with fellow writers who support you and don't tear you down. No one else understands the pain of a rejection like a fellow writer. You need to know you're not the only one crazy enough to want to get into this business.

Query Letter:

Ripped from her family and hunted for an ability she doesn’t understand, Olena Burnwhite stands trial for being a color eater. Her withered father is brought forth to testify, and Lena reaches for him. When a guard seizes her, Lena inadvertently unleashes years of pent up frustration upon the innocent man. With the brush of her fingertips his face twists in terror as black disappears from his uniform, followed by the pink from his lips, and the blue from his eyes. Staring upon the stark white corpse, Lena finally comprehends the terror of what it means to be a color eater.

Sentenced to a lifetime in Korvidian, a city-sized research prison, Lena finds herself surrounded by lelsh, bearers, shifters, and other specials. The specials’ abilities are harnessed by the Magistrate to sustain technology and run a spy network in the pre-industrial world beyond its walls. During her servitude Lena learns the nuances of her power, finds clues about what happened to her family, and befriends Magda—a resistance fighter. When Magda goes missing Lena knows she must find her friend and escape. Her search leads to a vivisection lab where she discovers a half-dissected woman in the bed adjacent to Magda. Unwilling to leave anyone behind, Lena’s skills are pushed to the limit as she fights to save them all.

The Color Eater is a 75,600-word, fantasy novel that explores self-acceptance and what “family” really means. I am the managing editor of Kansas City Voices arts and literary magazine, a published flash fiction writer, and an award winning essayist. This is my debut novel.